Let's Practice Pitching!

Last Thursday, I did a post for The Writer's Alley, the group blog I'm a part of, and talked about pitching. If you missed it, you can find that post here. In that blog, I discuss in detail the elements of a successful pitch and outline the differences between a short pitch and a long pitch. I also gave some tips to give you an idea what to expect in your conference appointments and help you feel more prepared.

Today, I want to take all this information to an application level and actually work on brainstorming a few pitches with all of you. Something I love about pitches is that each person will highlight different parts of a story, consistent with their own particular writing voice. It's so interesting to see what people come up with!

So first let's review. An ideal pitch should include 1) Something your characters are moving toward 2) Something that's holding your characters back 3) Enough detail that we get a feel for your voice.

Remember that editors and agents are not out to to humiliate you. They genuinely want to hear what your story is about.  That's why they're attending the conference in the first place, and why they got into the book business. But they are also often tired from people who haven't spent time crafting a quality pitch... don't be discouraged by that.

Now I'm going to give a couple examples of famous movies and books to help break this down. First let's think about Pride and Prejudice. What is Elizabeth Bennett working toward? Well, two things come to mind. She would like a way to take care of her family, and she also wants to find true love. Unfortunately for her (but great for us as readers), her two goals work against each other when loveless prospects of marriage come. What is working against her? Well, pretty much everything about Mr. Darcy. He treats her as inferior to him, and yet throughout the book, a little part of her sees that he is the answer to both her goals at once.

So how can we get these concepts into a short little quip? Here's one idea that comes to mind...
Her family's ruin or her own? 
And then the long pitch could further articulate the story...
Elizabeth Bennett wears her independence like her custom-sewn clothes. But when her family needs financial stability, she must consider a marriage of convenience to provide for them, no matter the cost to herself. She'd love to find an alternative... if only it didn't involve that man. 

Let's take another example from the movie Casablanca. You know the one... brooding restaurant owner Rick has never gotten over his first love, but when she walks into the door of his bar with a patriot, he must decide who gets the exit visas... and who stays in Casablanca. How about something like this?
Two men. One woman. One stays, one goes.
Longer pitch...
Putting past love behind him was easier before Elisa walked into Rick's Cafe with her husband on her arm. Elisa and her patriot husband need the exit visas in Rick's possession in order to leave Casablanca. But before Rick hands out the visas, he's got some questions that he'd like answered. Like what really happened in Paris when she left him.

Isn't this fun? Allow yourself to brainstorm while you are working on your pitch, and don't get frustrated if it doesn't come right away. I've found that idea sometimes come at the strangest times. I thought up the pitch I used at last year's conference in the middle of the night!

Okay, so here comes the really fun part! Your turn! Everyone loves the movie You've Got Mail... I'd love to see what pitches you can come up with for it. Feel free to use a short pitch and/or a long pitch.

Also, if you want to include a pitch you are working on right now for one of your own projects, feel free to do that as well! I'm so interested to see what everyone is working on and would love to help if you if you have any questions!

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  1. I love the stuff you came up with for P&P!! I've never really broken it down like that before.

    One question: Is the longer pitch the same as your back cover copy, essentially? I notice here that you only talked about one character, but if you have two MCs, should the longer pitch include both?

    Thanks, girl!

    1. Lindsay, this is a great question! I tried to answer earlier, but my phone wasn't cooperating. The longer pitch is very similar to the back cover pitch, with the main difference being the target audience. The back cover is designed to hook the reader, whereas the long pitch is obviously designed for an editor/agent. The long pitch is also usually shorter than your back cover copy. It's usually around 30 seconds, 4-5 sentences. What I like to do is start with my short pitch, then lead into my long pitch. I'll sometimes even say, "My hook is..." or "My premise is..." then give my short pitch, so it feels less awkward than just launching into it verbatim. Then you can feel it out from there. During appointments, though, I'd always give the full version, short pitch and long pitch. You pretty much are always going to give both, but the short pitch helps pique their interest so they don't zone out.

      As for your question about the MC's, that is a great one. I ran into this last year and decided to include both POVs in my long pitch because I felt both were very important to understanding the depth of the story. The first two sentences I gave were about the female MC, and the second two were about the male MC, and the latter alluded to his involvement with the female MC's problem. Does that make sense? So I think it depends on what's best for your story, but definitely don't shy away from using multiple POVs. Just be sure it's clear which one you're talking about... you want to transition smoothly from one to the other.